Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The "Huh"ization of What?

Via the NYTs:
There was a time when the Champs-Élysées stood for grand living, high style and serendipity...But the road where de Gaulle celebrated France’s liberation from the Nazis, the one known as “the most beautiful avenue on earth,” has, like Times Square and Oxford Street in London, turned into a commercialized money trap...And so, in a truly French moment, the Paris city government has begun to push back, proclaiming a crisis of confidence and promising a plan aimed at stopping the “banalization” of the Champs-Élysées.
Which only goes to show that even when the French are right, they are still pretentious.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Combatting Islamism

Christopher Hitchens' eight-point plan to fight Islamism and counter the conditions and trends that make it such a popular option among young Muslim men throughout the world. This is clipped from his review of Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It from City Journal.

1. An end to one-way multiculturalism and to the cultural masochism that goes with it. The Koran does not mandate the wearing of veils or genital mutilation, and until recently only those who apostasized from Islam faced the threat of punishment by death. Now, though, all manner of antisocial practices find themselves validated in the name of religion, and mullahs have begun to issue threats even against non-Muslims for criticism of Islam. This creeping Islamism must cease at once, and those responsible must feel the full weight of the law. Meanwhile, we should insist on reciprocity at all times. We should not allow a single Saudi dollar to pay for propaganda within the U.S., for example, until Saudi Arabia also permits Jewish and Christian and secular practices. No Wahhabi-printed Korans anywhere in our prison system. No Salafist imams in our armed forces.

2. A strong, open alliance with India on all fronts, from the military to the political and economic, backed by an extensive cultural exchange program, to demonstrate solidarity with the other great multiethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism. A hugely enlarged quota for qualified Indian immigrants and a reduction in quotas from Pakistan and other nations where fundamentalism dominates.

3. A similarly forward approach to Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, and the other countries of Western Africa that are under attack by jihadists and are also the location of vast potential oil reserves, whose proper development could help emancipate the local populations from poverty and ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

4. A declaration at the UN of our solidarity with the right of the Kurdish people of Iraq and elsewhere to self-determination as well as a further declaration by Congress that in no circumstance will Muslim forces who have fought on our side, from the Kurds to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, find themselves friendless, unarmed, or abandoned. Partition in Iraq would be defeat under another name (and as with past partitions, would lead to yet further partitions and micro-wars over these very subdivisions). But if it has to come, we cannot even consider abandoning the one part of the country that did seize the opportunity of modernization, development, and democracy.

5. Energetic support for all the opposition forces in Iran and in the Iranian diaspora. A public offer from the United States, disseminated widely in the Persian language, of help for a reformed Iran on all matters, including peaceful nuclear energy, and of assistance in protecting Iran from the catastrophic earthquake that seismologists predict in its immediate future. Millions of lives might be lost in a few moments, and we would also have to worry about the fate of secret underground nuclear facilities. When a quake leveled the Iranian city of Bam three years ago, the performance of American rescue teams was so impressive that their popularity embarrassed the regime. Iran’s neighbors would need to pay attention, too: a crisis in Iran’s nuclear underground facilities—an Iranian Chernobyl—would not be an internal affair. These concerns might help shift the currently ossified terms of the argument and put us again on the side of an internal reform movement within Iran and its large and talented diaspora.

6. Unconditional solidarity, backed with force and the relevant UN resolutions, with an independent and multi-confessional Lebanon.

7. A commitment to buy Afghanistan’s opium crop and to keep the profits out of the hands of the warlords and Talibanists, until such time as the country’s agriculture— especially its once-famous vines—has been replanted and restored. We can use the product in the interim for the manufacture of much-needed analgesics for our own market and apply the profits to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

8. We should, of course, be scrupulous on principle about stirring up interethnic tensions. But we should remind those states that are less scrupulous—Iran, Pakistan, and Syria swiftly come to mind—that we know that they, too, have restless minorities and that they should not make trouble in Afghanistan, Lebanon, or Iraq without bearing this in mind. Some years ago, the Pakistani government announced that it would break the international embargo on the unrecognized and illegal Turkish separatist state in Cyprus and would appoint an ambassador to it, out of “Islamic solidarity.” Cyprus is a small democracy with no armed forces to speak of, but its then–foreign minister told me the following story. He sought a meeting with the Pakistani authorities and told them privately that if they recognized the breakaway Turkish colony, his government would immediately supply funds and arms to one of the secessionist movements—such as the Baluchis—within Pakistan itself. Pakistan never appointed an ambassador to Turkish Cyprus.
At first glance, I have nothing to add to this, except for a call for liberals to not explain Islamism as a reaction to American imperialism or confuse it with Third World revolution and understand it as the existential threat it wishes to be. What I like to call gushy liberals may protest this as Islamophobia, which only makes me wonder if liberal democracy, and its more economically managed counterpart in Europe, social democracy, are under threat from liberals so PC that they cannot see an emerging threat poised to destroy everything they profess and hold dear.

International solidarity has always been a column in the left's ideological architecture. It's time to ensure its foundation and support the democratic, multi-ethnic, and multi-confessional forces throughout the Muslim world that work toward a more liberal philosophy in the classical sense to guide the organization of their societies.

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European Realpolitik on Iran

Europe is resisting American calls to economically boycott Iran because of Iranian meddling in Iraq and refusal to curtail their nuclear program, which Iran claims is civilian in nature.
European governments are resisting Bush administration demands that they curtail support for exports to Iran and that they block transactions and freeze assets of some Iranian companies, officials on both sides say. The resistance threatens to open a new rift between Europe and the United States over Iran.

Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran.

In December, Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program led the United Nations Security Council to impose economic sanctions. Iran’s rebuff is based on its contention that its nuclear program is civilian in nature, while the United States and other countries believe Iran plans to make weapons.

At issue now is how the resolution is to be carried out, with Europeans resisting American appeals for quick action, citing technical and political problems related to the heavy European economic ties to Iran and its oil industry.
This is unsurprising as Europe values its economic dealings with Iran more than the possible chance of war breaking out between Iran and the U.S. if Iran gets more aggressive in Iraq, which indeed seems unlikely. Again this is the nature of realpolitik -- an educated guess as to how events will turn out and how it can effect a state's or regional organization's interests.

Right now, Europe is playing with a tiny fire and is unlikely to be burned. But with any fire, however small, there is the chance an ember will jump out of the enclosure and create a forest fire.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Bush's Iranian Doppelganger?

An interesting quote from an ordinary Iranian who voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Sunday's NYTs Magazine piece on the clash between the forces of democracy and the forces of theocracy in Iran:
“Sometimes I am analyzing myself and thinking, Oh, we have done wrong,” he mused. “He is very popular and friendly with the people, but sometimes when he is expressing his ideas, he doesn’t think about the future or the consequences. He is a simple man.”
Doesn't this sound familiar?

I must plead ignorance on how much power Ahmadinejad has in Iranian foreign policies decisions outside of clerical control, but jebus, Bush's messianic neoconservatism seems to have found it's bizarro world equivalent in Ahmadinejad's Shia messianism. If this isn't a clash of ideologies with possible horrific consequences, I don't know what is.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

This Is Getting Interesting

Via the NYTs today, President Bush has authorized American soldiers to kill Iranian agents if actionable intelligence is received that the agents are mixed up in plots to kill American soldiers.
But more questions about the campaign in Iraq, and in particular whether it includes a more aggressive approach to Iraq’s neighbor Iran, seem certain following a report in The Washington Post today.

The newspaper reported that the Bush administration has authorized the American military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of a new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence in the Middle East and to give up its nuclear ambitions.

The Post said lethal force against Iranians was not known to have been used to date. But the newspaper did say that dozens of suspected Iranian agents had been detained over the past year for three to four days at a time under a “catch and release” policy intended to avoid escalating tensions with Iran.
As long as the Administration continues to couple diplomacy along with this more aggressive approach within Iraq, then this is the correct foreign policy decision regarding Iran and its effort to defeat the U.S. in Iraq. War with Iran would be catastrophic for all sorts of reasons economic and diplomatic, but Iranian agents cannot be allowed to consort with the insurgency and terrorists and kill American soldiers. If Bush continues to walk this delicate line between diplomacy and force, then he should be supported in this particular situation.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Of the Ummah and the Sword

Over at the fanatical and sophisticated jihadist website Jihad Unspun, we get a clear idea about how jihadists believe Islam was spread and an insider look as to how the faith should expand today. The title of the essay is "Was Islam Really Spread by the Sword?" but don't take that as a question, unless you mean rhetorically.
One of the greatest debates within the Muslim Ummah, one that causes division within the Islamic nation and that is often used by the enemies of Islam as a means of ascribing brutality to our religion is centered on the methods by which Islam was propagated throughout the globe. Was Islam spread by the sword? The quick answer to this question is a resounding yes and in this article, we hope to set the record straight using the evidence from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the practice of the Guided Caliphs and the consensus of the righteous scholars of the Ummah, inshaAllah. While the evidences in this article are by no means exhaustive, inshaAllah they will be adequate to lay this matter to rest.

Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, was sent to all mankind and Jinn with Allah’s final and complete message constituting a system of life that leads to the ultimate spiritual, social, and economic justice, security and prosperity. In addition, Islam guarantees a blissful eternal life in the Hereafter to whoever adheres to its rules. Some will see Islam in the right light. Others will allow their whims to lead them astray. Protecting those who reject Islam through their own foolishness and who harbor the potential to corrupt others by forcing them (those who reject Islam) to embrace Islam under the gun is something for which Islam ought to be praised, not condemn. How could saving someone from Hellfire be condemned?
Read on and you'll get a litany of quotes from the Quran justifying the jihadist interpretation of this profanely sacred text as a violent ultimatum: conversion or death.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Resolve or Cynicism?

Over at, Fred Kaplan wonders whether Bush's speech last night escalating the Iraq War by deploying 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad and Anbar province is virtue of steely-eyed resolve or duplicitous cynicism.

But the worst of it is that Bush didn't articulate any backup plan if the troop surge fails. Kaplan argues any sensible backup plan would include regional diplomacy including Iran and Syria to avert a civil war from becoming a regional conflagration, but he believes Bush destroyed this option during the middle of his address.
Halfway into the speech, it seemed for a moment that Bush might address this issue. "Succeeding in Iraq also requires … stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge," he said, a task that "begins with addressing Iran and Syria." But then, instead of calling for, say, talks with those countries, Bush said that their regimes have provided material support to the insurgents. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," the president warned. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

Really? All we can muster for Iraq is a paltry 20,000 extra troops; even they will accomplish little without massive infusions from a dubious Iraqi military and miraculous political breakthroughs from a faltering Iraqi government—and President Bush, at such a desperate moment, talks about expanding the war to Iran and Syria? It's shiveringly scary.
For Bush, the drum beat never dulls, it only gets louder.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Small Business Fallacy

Hopefully, by the end of the day, Congress will approve a raise in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. Unfortunately, the NYTs is reporting the wage hike may have to be linked to tax cuts for small business because raising the minimum wage will lead to their ruin. Thankfully, WaPo's Steven Pearlstein cuts through the bullshit -- whether it's from free-market fundamentalists or politicos too close to their local small business community. Much of his broadside is against Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but Pearlstein does a good job of shooting down the scare tactics ideologues generally use while arguing against any wage increase (unless it's for Corporate America).
We will hear all the sob stories about how struggling small businesses with thin margins will be forced to cut back on hiring, pull back on expansion plans and, in some instances, close their doors. Moreover, this won't be a tragedy just for small-business owners and employees but for the economy as a whole, since everybody knows that small business creates virtually all new jobs. Only another round of tax breaks can keep the great American jobs machine humming.

And here's the thing: Most of it is nonsense.

To begin, both economic theory and history suggest that small business will, in time, pass on its increased costs to its consumers. Small businesses that pay low wages tend to compete with other small businesses that pay low wages, so they will all face the same cost pressures and respond in similar fashion. The worst that can be said is that a higher minimum wage will add, very modestly, to overall inflation.

There is also general agreement among economists that a higher minimum wage, at the levels we are talking about, will have a minimal impact on adult employment. Slightly higher prices might reduce, slightly, the demand for Wendy's hamburgers, cheap hotel rooms and dog-walking services. But largely offsetting those effects will be the increased demand for goods and services by tens of millions of Americans who will finally be getting a raise. A higher minimum wage doesn't lower economic activity so much as rearrange it slightly.
But Pearlstein also forgets another benefit of a minimum wage hike: the multiplier effect. This means as the wage increase hits the market, other workers higher up on the wage scale will receive raises as well. And while business owners bemoan this, it's good for overall economic activity. Workers will take the extra cash in their paychecks and return it immediately back into the economy, thereby increasing economic activity and expanding the marketplace.

If raising the minimum wage would kill the economy, do you think over 650 of the country's leading economists would advocate it?

So when you hear all the fearmongering surrounding the minimum wage hike, remember to check who funds that thinktank or who gave that politician the campaign contributions needed to get elected.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Real NeoCons?

Peter Beinart, over at TNR, has a seemingly counterintuitive argument concerning liberals and neoconservatives. According to Beinart, the real neocons of today are liberals. You may say "wait, wait," but Beinart's correct and the reason why concerns the history of neoconservatism. I'll let Beinart explain by using the first two neoconservative journals, The Public Interest and Commentary, as examples.
The Public Interest dealt primarily with domestic policy. But, in foreign affairs, neocons displayed the same skepticism toward what Francis Fukuyama has called "utopian social engineering." Early neocon foreign policy was aggressive; Podhoretz and Kristol wanted to confront communist movements across the globe. But, for the neocons, preventing communist takeovers did not mean imposing liberal democracies. In Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous maxim, conservatism's key insight was that culture matters more than politics. And, if a nation's culture was not conducive to democracy, attempts to impose one would backfire. In her famed 1979 Commentary essay, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Jeane Kirkpatrick ridiculed the liberal demand that Nicaragua and Iran shed their authoritarianism as a precondition of U.S. support. "No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans," she wrote, "than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence." If neocons thought it utopian to believe Washington could rapidly end poverty, they thought it equally utopian to believe Washington could rapidly instill democracy. In both cases, they believed, such hubris was a particularly liberal vice.

As it turns out, that was wrong. In the wake of America's success in the cold war and the right's success in U.S. politics, the same hubris began to afflict many neocons themselves.
Beinart is on to something here. Today, young liberals value empiricism over ideology. They should, as empiricism is the tool most valued by Enlightenment philosophers or the classical liberals such as Locke, Humboldt, Rousseau and, if I may, Paine of which they are the heirs.

Ideology unconstrained by reality has given us the French Terror, Leninism, Stalinism, Fascism, and now Bush era neoconservatism. While I believe the majority of people on earth want to live peaceably and free, the United States must rely on the work of social scientists and experts on the ground to decide when democracy can plausibly be pushed overseas and when it must be nurtured slowly so the necessary institutions and economic vitality are there to sustain it.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Video of Saddam Hussein being executed

I know I am probably only contributing to the rubber-necking going on regarding the tyrant Saddam Hussein's execution, but I am linking to the full version here so it is understood why civilized nations have banned this barbarity from their legal codes.

As Albert Camus once wrote, to be moral during the historial rush of reprisal and revenge, one must be "neither victim nor executioner."

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